Shadow did not want to be caged. Sylphlike and snow colored, the animal paced her closet-size concrete-and-wire enclosure, ears pinned back, body tense, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Nor did the small town of Tooele, Utah, want to keep her caged. It did not want her there at all.
Shadow is a wolfdog—a wolf-dog hybrid. That makes her an exotic animal in the eyes of Tooele’s law enforcement, ineligible for residence in a family home. Many states ban wolfdogs, as do many municipalities, since they require more resources and pose more danger than your average pup. “It is like having a toddler for a decade,” said Steve Wastell of Apex Protection Project, a wolfdog-rescue group based in Southern California. A toddler with jaws strong enough to shatter a moose femur. Still, like sugar gliders and pythons, wolfdogs have an enduring, cultish following among pet owners. An estimated 250,000 of them live as pets in the United States.
Many wolfdogs make wonderful family companions, and it seemed like Shadow might be one of them. Just a few minutes after meeting me, she let me scratch the top of her head and smooth down her coat. But when a wolfdog does not make a wonderful family pet, when it is too skittish or prey driven or high energy for a domestic environment, the consequences are often dangerous, if not fatal, for the wolfdogs, and sometimes for their owners, too. Only certain homes make sense for these animals—homes with experienced owners and strong fences.